Q&A with Amar Urhekar 

— The new Global President of Ashfield Health explains what drew him to the network, what “make it matter” truly means, and future goals for the company.

By Christiane Truelove • [email protected]

Med Ad News: What attracted you to Ashfield? What were the challenges that you thought you could address for the company, and how have you tackled those? 

Amar Urhekar: Ashfield Health was one of the industry’s best kept secrets. We have a network of more than 1,500 people delivering pioneering, creative, and impactful work. However, no one realized this because we were operating under more than 20 different brands. From the minute I met the team and looked under the hood, the potential was clear. We have loyal and long term clients who knew us only as the agency brand that they were working with, but there was so much more that we could offer them. We just needed to tell our story in a way so clients could understand our capabilities and realize how we can be a strategic, valued partner. Our rebrand launch in February has made our story and proposition much clearer and easier to navigate for clients. 

Our challenge is the same as many in the industry—responding to the rapidly changing world of medical affairs. The future of medical communications sees the rise of omnichannel strategy and execution, with a renewed importance of creativity, along with strong reliance on data and technology. Soon after I joined Ashfield Health, we embarked on a strategy to increase the creative function in our Med Comms division by 30 people. Now, our data and experience team at Mind+Matter works closely with our Med Comms team. And we are doubling down in our investment to cultivate talent and produce new experiences in data science and technology. 

Most importantly, I noticed that everyone I met, regardless of where they worked in the business was really driven by how we help people. However, we didn’t have a purpose to rally around. We needed something that would resonate with our clients, our staff, and the talent we wanted to attract. We introduced an ambitious 5-year strategy to deliver a purpose-driven business. As a business, we are distinctly aware that everything we do is a matter of life, which led to our mantra, “make it matter.” 

Med Ad News: What does the “make it matter” tagline mean to you? What is “it”? What would you like clients, or potential clients, to understand about that slogan? 

Amar Urhekar: For me ‘make it matter’ is an opportunity, a challenge, and a promise to impact each and every patient’s life we touch in a meaningful way. We want to create a positive change for the individual, the community, and the world at large—one patient at a time.

For our staff, ‘make it matter’ is a rallying cry – whatever they are working on, no matter if it is big or small, exciting or mundane, it matters and ladders up to a great campaign that makes a difference in a patient’s life. It’s an extra boost of energy to keep going and give your all. 

For our clients, it’s a promise of what we can do together. We can make the initiative, experience, or solution, really matter. It’s also a challenge to reflect on what we’re doing and ask both ourselves and the client whether it will make a difference, whether it will matter. If the answer is no, then we need to refine our focus. The phrase is simple, and yet powerful. I’ve even started using it with my kids!

Med Ad NewsWhat are the biggest challenges you see for your clients over the next few years, and how can Ashfield Health help meet those challenges?

Amar Urhekar

Amar Urhekar: Some of the challenges are new and some are persistent. Three key challenges our clients face include realizing the power of data; adapting to the delivery of healthcare in a tech-driven world; and explaining their role in healthcare and society.

The data challenge is new and more pressing than ever. Our clients see the value of data as a competitive differentiator and business driver. Harnessed well, drug development can be done quicker, care can be tailored more accurately, and education or marketing can be more efficient and effective. The notion of data is often misleading, because the industry lacks a strong understanding of what ‘good’ data is and how to determine the real ‘truth’ it contains. With this in mind, Ashfield Health is investing heavily in data talent, tools, and architecture to help our clients make it matter.

Our challenge is to adapt healthcare education, marketing, and delivery to the new technology and tools available. We must go beyond well-established paths and focus on the best customer experience possible. This requires bravery, innovation, and risk. Our goal is to work with clients to understand the HCP or patient, how they behave, and what is most valuable to them before designing engaging and positive experiences. With so many new tools and channels arriving on a daily basis, we can help clients stay ahead of the game and understand which ones are right for their specific challenge.

Med Ad News: Do you see acquisitions for Ashfield Health in the future, and if so, what kinds of companies would you like to acquire?

Amar Urhekar: We are acquisitive by nature and see acquisitions, partnerships, or investments as an important part of our strategy to create a network that can help clients from making discoveries to making a difference. We want to acquire companies that are a good cultural fit—are they entrepreneurial, collaborative and purpose driven; progressive businesses; and led by amazing people.

Med Ad News: What does Ashfield Health currently offer that other health-focused networks may not? What are your points of differentiation?

Amar Urhekar: I’ve never seen a business with so many passionate, purpose driven, and smart people. However, our difference is our entrepreneurial mindset and the unique agility to scale when needed. We provide our agencies with the freedom to operate in the best way for their clients. And we empower them to collaborate seamlessly with other Ashfield Health agencies—which has been done brilliantly. We built this model specifically to match the client need for agility, quality service, and inspirational partnership.

Ashfield Health has an unbeatable bedrock of scientific acumen thanks to the more than 700 talented creative and Med Comms team members. While many other networks are trying to build their scientific capabilities through their agencies or are struggling to find the balance of scientific acumen and creative, Ashfield Health offers the perfect balance of creative and science. This positions us brilliantly to be a strong full lifecycle partner to our clients.

Med Ad News: In the next five years, what do you think will be Ashfield Health’s greatest challenges? How are you laying the foundation to address future business challenges?

Amar Urhekar: We share the challenges that our clients face, but the key ones are keeping up with the pace of change and innovation, while attracting and retaining the best talent. 

We are building a culture that welcomes change, champions boldness and bravery, and has a curiosity for new solutions and a new way of working. Our 5-year strategic plan has technology and innovation at its core, as we are determined to lead the way for our clients. Stay tuned for some exciting news. 

As it relates to talent, we have put our flag firmly in the ground to live up to our promise of being a purpose driven organization and the best place to work in the industry. We are making changes to our benefits package to reflect the needs of our staff and are reviewing how technology can free up time to allow our team to focus on what really matters. We are doubling down on our training and development. Our goal is for our team members to build a career, not just do a job. 

Finally, we are giving our talented staff the opportunity to shape our brand as it develops. By doing this, we are inspiring our team to “make it matter.”